Pritipaul Singh to comply with trawler fire report

- company official

While disputing the accuracy of the recent report on the Pritipaul Singh Investments (PSI) trawler fire, an official of the seafood company says it will “improve in whatever areas are lacking.”

The official, who declined to be named, told Stabroek News yesterday that PSI has been striving over the years to improve its operating procedures and will continue to improve in areas which needed attention, including health and safety. He said that the company has seen and reviewed the preliminary report into the June 19 fire aboard the Captain Lloyd 97, which left the vessel’s Captain Delbert Williams missing and presumed dead, a crewman dead and others injured.

The official stated that PSI believes that several areas in the report did not give a true picture of the company’s operations. These included the findings that informed the recommendation that the company should seek to develop job descriptions for each position within the company, which should be compiled and documented and form part of the quality management system.

He said that over the years PSI had developed an organizational chart of its operations and this has been continually updated to ensure that its suits the company’s operations. He added that the company also has its National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU) licence in order and that the vessels within the company are outfitted with radio communication devices. He said the fact that the company has its NFMU files in order is an indication that it has been following required procedures.

As regards recruitment, the official stated that it is impossible for anyone entering the world of work to have knowledge of the field he/she is entering. The report had recommended that PSI ensure that it contracts qualified captains, who should employ experienced crew members or at least persons who have attended the Basic Safety Training Course. The official said it is the captain who would employ crew members and would know the background of the person being hired to work on the vessels.

The official said PSI will nevertheless comply with the findings of the team and he reiterated that it will ensure that its operations meet the required standards as set out by the competent authority.

PSI is expected to release a formal response to the report tomorrow.
Orlon Munroe, 22, succumbed to his injuries some three months after being hospitalized while George Fitzpatrick is recovering from burns he sustained during the fire. Two other crew members escaped with minor injuries.

The investigating team, which was set up after Transport Minister Robeson Benn ordered an inquiry into the incident, also made recommendations for the Maritime Administration Department (MARAD) to make it mandatory for seamen or potential seamen to attend the Basic Safety Training Course, among other things. Attempts by this newspaper to obtain a comment from MARAD yesterday were unsuccessful.

The authorities are exploring whether any charges will be laid against PSI in relation to the incident and the report is expected to be sent to the Attorney General’s Chambers to this end. Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud told this newspaper over the weekend that the Fisheries Advisory Committee of the Agriculture Ministry as well as the Works Ministry may also pronounce on the issue as regards penalties the company may face.

After the report was made public, the ministry’s Fisheries Department stated last week that recommendations made by the investigating team will be implemented to ensure that they are adhered to by all fishing vessels, especially trawlers. The department stated that the continued licensing of trawlers will be linked to the recommendations and the most stringent examination of vessels and related requirements will be done to ensure that irregularities and deficiencies are rectified before licences are issued.

According to the department, the Guyana Association of Trawler Owners and Seafood Processors was implored to take the necessary measures to ensure that all its members comply with the rules and regulations, which would see that all occupational safety and health systems are in place and that crew members of vessels are able to work in a safe environment. Association President Leslie Romalho could not be reached for a comment yesterday.

The investigation, which included inspections of PSI’s facilities at McDoom and Providence on the East Bank Demerara as well as the trawler in question, found, among other deficiencies, lax safety measures and key managers with little or no “competence” in the area they oversee.

The team said that while the emphasis in the company is understandably to maximize production, it is not to be achieved at the expense of the health and safety of employees and contractors. It was recommended that PSI consider the employment of a qualified mariner among the shore staff, or the services of a marine consultant to periodically check that all things in relation to the vessels are in compliance with regulations. The team also recommended that PSI  ensure all emergency and safety equipment on shore and aboard ships are acquired and maintained in a serviceable state and emergency drills are to be carried out periodically ashore and on board the vessels.

The report also recommended that MARAD seek to develop a syllabus for skippers of fishing vessels and the unit was urged to develop on-board operating procedures to regulate activities such as the transfer of fuel between compartments of tanks and set clear guidelines to govern the handling of evidence to ensure its preservation for forensic purposes.